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The Psychology of a Hangover.

Addiction.,Depression,Psychotherapy — admin @ 12:00 pm

Here at Counselling Connections this week we have been turning our attention to one of the less favourable aspects of the holiday season. Regular readers will know that we love this time of year. We like to try to remain tuned in to the cycle of the seasons and the turn of the earth. We like the ancient celebration of the solstice and the promise of brighter days to come. We love the optimism and the gathering together for a family celebration. Another feature of all of this anticipation is expressed in a letting off of steam in a series of office and other parties. A build up of months of hard work is released in group celebrations up and down the country. These occasions often involve the consumption of alcohol; sometimes lots of it. So, as we witness groups of friends and colleagues dressed in seasonal jumpers and often hopping from one pub to another in the latest party craze we pause here to reflect on what comes next. Without wishing to be accused of being party poopers, we’d like to pause for a moment and give some thoughts on the psychology of a hangover.

The first thing to bear in mind about a hangover relates to the expectation and frustration that sometimes accompanies the drinking behaviour in the first instance. People say to us that if they have had a hard week or a tough time in work that they intend to blow off a bit of steam on a Friday night. The reasons for having a few drinks can be important and we’ll explain why a little later. Sometimes clients tell us of occasions where they know that the reason they have a few drinks is to make some emotional problem go away. This is very successful in the short term but it brings a number of built in challenges with it. In short, it doesn’t last longer than the alcohol. In the best traditions of a Greek or a Shakespearian tragedy, the seeds of the eventual fall, the hangover, are sown in the character of the build up and the pressure which we’re seeking to release in the first instance.

Sometimes these pressures are emotional and sometimes mundane. From one end of the week to the other we get to bed and get up and commute and rush about at what is, to our instinctual self, often regarded as the bidding of the other. We go to work because we have to. We have to pay rent and mortgages. We have bills to pay. We don’t have as much discretionary income left over as we’d like to. And in these latitudes the evenings gradually get darker to the point where we often go to work and come home again in the dark and it can seem like we’ll never see the light of day again. The idea then of a chance to party a little, to kick up our heels and even to misbehave a little is a very welcome one. Indeed, at some level we feel we deserve a party as a reward for all our effort. This can be experienced as a frustration and a sense of entitlement for an office party where the company look after us for being good little boys and girls; we get to be naughty for one night for being good all year long.

If you’re thinking that what you’ve read so far isn’t in our usually positive tone well you’re right. That’s because we think that some of these frustrations and anger are what is expressed in a night of drinking and these are what return then with a vengeance the morning after the night before.

So, you wake up in the morning after having a little too much to drink the night before. Sometimes this is mild enough and at other times it is much more debilitating and puts you out of action or bed bound for the best part of a day. One of the first things that people describe is the phenomenon often referred to as ‘the fear’. This seems to be a double edge sword. Firstly, it is simply a feeling of all over dread based on the physiological reaction to the levels of alcohol consumed and still in our system. Alcohol is a depressant. Secondly, as we wake and review the previous evening’s activity we are often consumed with a range of feelings based on what we can remember of what we have done the night before. Sometimes this process happens in waves over the course of the day. We might have said something indiscrete or just plain stupid. We might have just carried the fun a little too far and made a nuisance of ourselves. Or we might have committed some sexual indiscretion and wonder how we can undo any damage to relationships that we have caused. A number of referrals to our office come as a result of violence, sometimes involving police and courts which were a direct result of alcohol intake. We get belligerent when we’ve had too much to drink.

As we look over these things we face the fall in our estimate of our self and can spend some time in self reproach. We call this part of the process a spiritual hangover. Quite apart from any physical sickness which will quickly pass, this spiritual part of the hangover can be quite serious and oddly enough can be part of the process of frustration we described earlier which will build and lead to the next blow out. People often describe to us how this can become a cycle which can seem difficult to escape. So, drinking heavily can cause real spiritual or psychological harm which is not good for our mental health.

The reasons why we were tempted to have a few drinks in the first place return with a hangover with a renewed self destructive cheer. It is like all the problems we were trying to escape simply sat on the sidelines and witnessed our brief interlude into a party self and then expressed themselves again with a renewed vigour. And again, this is often then associated with severe self reproach. We are hurting our self when we do this. And we tend to do it over again.

The antidote to all of this is quite simple. When we say it to people they think it is quite radical and often a little extreme. The one sure way to avoid a hangover is not to drink. When we dream of a lovely, bubbly, cold beer on a weekend we rarely pause to check our expectations or experience. The drink does not deliver on the promise; it doesn’t give us what we hope it will. It is very temporary. We don’t stop to think of the whole process of hangover and recovery that we have gone through before. Sometimes this process is harmless enough but often it is not. It is often quite harmful to the self, to our mental health, to drink to excess and then to repeat it again. We can get stuck in the cycle of this and end up feeling miserable over and again. Quite apart from any physical health problems we can say for sure that it leads to mental health problems.

So, with apologies for the sobering tone in this, the party season we would simply urge you to look humbly at your own drinking. Mind your self and take good care of your mental health.

Counselling Connections.

Renewal after Depression.

Depression — admin @ 8:35 pm

Here at Counselling Connections this week we have been continuing our discussion about aspects of depression. In particular we have been focusing on the processes involved in coming out of depression. We don’t subscribe to a quick fix solution to depression. Nor do we believe in a ‘one size fits all’ approach because we see depression as being personal to each individual who endures it. Whereas there is an understandable demand for solutions or tips for recovery our view is that we must begin by reflecting in a deep way on our life and influences in order to begin a process of change. Often, a lasting recovery from depression begins with this period of deep personal reflection; a looking back in order to begin to look forward.

Even the very concept of recovery is the subject of discussion within our group. To recover means to get something back or to get back to a previous position. In that regard the purpose of therapy for a person with depression is not to recover but to change. The task is one of transformation of the self rather than of going back to the way things used to be. If the first task is to figure out how we got to the point of depression the latter is to map out a view of how we would like things to be in the future. This process is very personal to each one of us.

It is not a simple task to unlock the secrets of depression. We have described previously how self reproach plays a part in this. Continuing the process of working through the reasons why we become trapped in this cycle involves looking at the ideas we might have about the way we would like to be. We do have an idea within us somewhere of what kind of person we would like to be. Comparing our current life with how we imagine things ought to be undoubtedly contributes to depression. We may not be able to live up to our internal ideas of an ideal version of our own self. This can become a punitive sort of comparison.

Our image of a potential self is likely to be influenced by our idealising significant figures from our earlier years. We may identify with certain traits or characteristics which we find admirable in family, friends or teachers. We may secretly strive to attain some similar virtues in our own lives. This can become a personal project which we dedicate our lives to; but meet with frustration when we come up short of our ideal. Personal change following a period of depression involves trying to recognise these identifications in our self. We can then become conscious of their appropriateness and of what prevents us from achieving them. We can decide if we want to renew our efforts in a particular direction or tear up the plan and draw up a new one.

In examining our past we may discover impediments which caused us to deviate from or abandon earlier ideas of our own potential. Some of these may relate to unrealistic early ideas of where our life may take us. But we may also discover that family or other external influences caused us to hesitate before considering possible ways of being. We may realise that we turned away from a kind of life that actually accords well with our real self. The transformation involved in a sustained renewal following a period of depression will involve our working out how to proceed towards our own personal view of how we would like to be. Once we have become aware of how to do this we can change again and continue to adapt to life in a way of our own choosing.

Counselling Connections.

Coming out of Depression.

Depression — admin @ 6:57 pm

Here at Counselling Connections we have been continuing our discussion on various aspects of depression. This week our focus has been on one of the most difficult and also the most admirable aspects of coming through depression. We are talking about the ability to bounce back from what can seem like a series of knocks each of which represent a possible road block to our getting well again. The motivation it takes to overcome the obstacles that life presents us with is severely tested in the process of coming out of depression.

Sometimes we wonder where motivation comes from and how it works. Before we undertake a task we would have to have some reason for doing it. There has to be motivation to complete even a simple chore. Sometimes in depression we can’t seem to find the energy to put into even small day to day tasks. Part of therapy can involve plotting a way to achieve even a small goal which can then be registered as one achievement on the path out of depression. This may be nothing more complicated than a trip to the local shop. These little things which we usually take for granted can take on a bigger significance when we are coming through depression.

As part of a depression we can lose contact with others and become withdrawn into ourselves. This social isolation contributes to our anxious feelings as we struggle at the prospect at having to face people again. A one step at a time approach to coming out of depression involves facing these fears and having the determination to put small goals in front of ourselves. Being able to mark off a success in one of these tasks can give us the sense of satisfaction that builds into the confidence to tackle bigger things. This is part of a strategy aimed at getting back into a fuller life after the retreat of depression.

We understand that there are occasions where motivation seems to have deserted us completely. At times like this it can seem impossible to get started on any project. It is likely that a part of our self is telling us that we got seriously hurt by the world when we tried to achieve something in the past. This part of us is wrapped up in a type of mourning for the loss of past dreams which have gone unfulfilled. It cautions us against trying anything new for fear of getting disappointed again. At times like this we have to understand this fear and try to go on anyway in spite of it. We may feel that motivation is absent but we try the action anyway. It’s a bit of a paradox but action may need to come first in the absence of motivation in order to start the process of moving out of depression.

We hope that with achieving small milestones which we have set for ourselves we can build a step by step path out of depression. Our feelings of caution which are nursing the hurt of past failures will try to protect us from harm by holding us back. Any new setback will be seen by this part of our self as further evidence that there is no point in trying. Overcoming this takes a lot of determination and a little blind faith. It is a case of not necessarily knowing where the next step will take us but knowing that we have to keep trying. Putting a series of small successes together will lead to a sense of confidence. Belief starts small and is brittle but it grows as we keep on going. The strength that it takes to do this and to come out of depression is something we admire very much.

Counselling Connections, Dundalk.

Self reproach in Depression.

Depression — admin @ 1:08 pm

Here at Counselling Connections this week we continued an ongoing discussion about aspects of depression. We have been looking at the different ways in which depression comes about and trying to identify and separate out aspects of the process that may lead to one of us becoming depressed. Today we want to look at another aspect of our inner critic and the role it plays in depression. We spoke about our inner critic a little while ago and how we believe it is developed throughout childhood. Our inner critic can become our harshest citric and this is central to what happens in depression.

Ordinarily our personality seems to be in a state of balance. One the one side are our hopes and dreams. These tend to be positive and creative and provide the energy for us to achieve things. When things are going well we see meaning and purpose in everyday life. We can maintain a kind of momentum; focusing on daily tasks and feeling generally satisfied with life. The contents of our inner critic can represent the opposing forces to this creative energy and sense of contentment. From time to time something can happen to knock these opposing forces out of balance. When the hopeful side of our personality takes a step back we can be left feeling undefended in the face of the forces of our inner critic.

This can feel like the whole world is against us. One of the most difficult aspects of this is that it becomes internalised. What may have begun with some difficulties or disappointments in our external world becomes an internal struggle. It is as if the reverses we suffer in our working or romantic lives become aligned in our minds with the parts of us that are critical of our own self. We can then retreat from the world in a state of depression as we try to deal with the pain and tend to our emotional wounds. It can feel like there is no escape from a negative view of the world as we try to cope with self reproach. This state of being can become quite fixed. It can evolve into a cycle which we struggle with for years but never quite seem to escape.

Our view of depression is central to the way we practice. An ongoing task in therapy is to try to understand this dynamic internal process of expectation and disappointment. We spend a good deal of time examining these things and trying to understand them. Some practical, short-term therapeutic techniques involve tuning in to our negative thought processes. The idea is that we become more aware of how we are thinking and how this affects how we feel and behave. We can set about challenging these negative thoughts of self reproach that we experience in depression.

A longer term therapeutic approach is to delve into these matters more deeply and to become aware of them at a fundamental level. The goal here is to really get to know the different aspects of our inner life. We can spend some time remembering and reflecting on significant relationships and events from our past. We may identify patterns in how we have responded to these in similar ways over time. We may then get a clearer picture as to what we may really have been trying to achieve or overcome. This will help in building up an inner strength and a sense of confidence in our self. A cycle of becoming fixed in periods of self reproach can be broken in this way. Depression can be overcome by a growing belief in our self and the world which is secure in the face of the opposing forces of self reproach.

Counselling Connections Dundalk.

Post Christmas blues.

Depression — admin @ 11:08 am

Here at counselling connections it has been a quiet week. The feeling we get is of people emerging from a sort of ordeal. We are surprised by the language used to describe the post-Christmas period. People ask ‘how did you get over the Christmas’ or even ‘how did you survive the Christmas’. It sounds funny when you point it out but that is the nature of a good deal of the chat this week. Having expected so much from the holiday it seems like people might be feeling a little down. You wouldn’t think that the holiday was actually something that people were preparing for and looking forward to for months. But therein lays a clue to the deeper meanings of this time of the year.

Christmas is about mid winter; the turn of the year and more importantly the end of darkness and the beginning of a letting in of light. On Christian level it is about the birth of a baby and all that this baby represents. But the season has been celebrated for many millennia and how the modern feast is celebrated retains traces of the earlier pagan form. So much of the season seems to be about excess and this is where the idea of having to survive or overcome it originates. Maybe it is about getting rid of the last of the darkness; the bad in us while we prepare to let in the light and try to be good.

There are a few milestones over the holidays which are to be marked or overcome or endured depending on your point of view. One is the solstice which is at the heart of things. It has been enjoying a bit of a revival of interest in recent years especially in these parts where we are so geographically close to the passage tombs of our ancestors. This is closely followed then by the Christian celebration of Christmas itself. And one week later is the official calendar New Year. Somewhere in the midst of all of this many will also have an office Christmas party and family get togethers. It is all spread out over quite a period of time and it is no wonder that the talk is of ‘getting over’ it.

These things are aspects of public or group events where the individual is called upon to partake sometimes it seems in spite of their better judgement or intentions. There is the sense of an obligation to take part and join in the sort of hysteria that abounds in the run up to Christmas. It is something that people describe as being hard to avoid. How many of us have stood in the shopping street or mall in the days before Christmas with only one thing left to buy but with the slightly panicky temptation to grab a load more ‘stuff’ for nobody in particular? There are clues to a way out of the cycle in both the spread out nature of the events and the group versus individual aspects of it all.

The public landmarks of this time of year represent not only the change of the seasons and the turn of the year. They also replicate personal or internal undulations of mood and expectation. We go through natural cycles of fluctuation in how we feel or in our outlook. We can celebrate and enjoy things or we can consume to excess in a sort of denial where we are in fact detached from our self and our own natural cycles. Some people have a good way of working these things out through a process which is like integrating these highs and lows of life on an ongoing basis. This is like a daily, internal renewal which is akin to the bigger cycle of renewal which is separated out into the public events of this time of year. So it seems that with a little work it is possible to break these big things down into a day by day personal process. It is possible to personalise the great public celebrations into smaller internal ones without the great highs which are followed by great lows. In this version of events this time of year is integrated and enjoyed quietly rather than becoming something which has to be endured.

Counselling Connections, Dundalk.

Prejudice, stigma and tolerance.

Depression,Separation/ Divorce — admin @ 3:43 pm

Here at Counselling Connections this week we have been getting up on our soap box. The issues we were discussing were stigma and prejudice. Often in therapy the issues that are covered are historical. These are the life events and relationships that shape us. Our parents, siblings,  family, schoolmates and teachers and our wider communityare all influences that help to shape our personality. We can spend a good deal of time in therapy reflecting on these influences and considering ways to change their ongoing effects.

The stories from our past which we remember and work through in therapy can include incidents where others have taken it upon themselves to criticize or condemn us. These can be hurtful and harmful and depending where we encounter this it can have a major effect on us. This can be worked on in therapy. Sometimes this criticism can be because of prejudice and it can be current. It is this which we want to address today. For all that we can work with these issues in therapy they also reflect the society in which we live.

We wonder if our highlighting these issues can help towards making life a little more bearable by encouraging a little tolerance where we find difference. And this seems to be important to the kinds of things which we come across in our work. Even though it’s the twenty first century and social norms have changed a great deal we still come across examples where clients are stigmatised and discriminated against. It might seem like we are talking about things that belong to previous decades but we find that these things are still happening in 2011.

When you make the decision to get married and commit yourself to another you expect that it will last for life in line with the vow. You don’t expect that the relationship will come apart and end in separation or divorce. Nobody expects to encounter a period of depression or even repeated periods of it through life. Many people struggle greatly with the process of facing up to their own sexual orientation. In all of these things the support of family, friends, colleagues and community can be a huge force for good. It is that force for good which we would like to appeal for today.

If you take tolerance to its ultimate conclusion it would mean that we must show some understanding of those who hold views that are in opposition to our own. The balance that we are trying to find is between holding firm views and the harm that expressing or attempting to enforce these views might cause. Our appeal is for understanding of those who may be gay or lesbian; who may be trying to establish a second relationship after a marriage has ended or those attempting to put their lives together after a period of depression. Our plea is simple. It is to show a little understanding and tolerance and not to stand in the way of someone trying to become the person they want to be.

Our inner critic.

Depression,Psychotherapy — admin @ 2:06 pm

Here at Counselling Connections this week we enjoyed a good discussion over a pot of coffee. It was a longish discussion, with a good case to be made for each side of the argument. Then one participant stood up and said ‘I should be getting back to work; I don’t want to get into trouble’. This was a joke. We counselling folk do like a little therapy humour although this particular attempt was met with more groans than laughs. The reason for the joke; the point of expressing the feeling that we might get in trouble was that the discussion was about our inner critic; that sometimes loud and harsh; sometimes quiet and encouraging inner sense or inner voice that plays an essential role in regulating our personality.

Tuning in to our inner critic plays a part in every therapy. In some cases it is a central theme with long, painstaking, almost archaeological sifting through the layers backwards through time. This is where therapy digs into the deeper issues as we undertake the work of getting to know our own internal critic. The questions are about this inner critic’s origins; its effects and how it might be challenged and changed. One of the characteristics of it seems to be the severity by which it is experienced. And this leads us towards the reasons for its presence and how it can be either a positive and creative force or a negative and destructive one.

That part of our personality which becomes our inner critic has its origins in our early experiences. It is the result of the day to day routines of life which are governed by minor rights and wrongs. Our parents may admonish us or try to steer us gently in particular direction; maybe a direction we don’t want to go in. The result can be either a tantrum or desire to please by doing the right thing. The two sides of the compliance/defiance coin are played out energetically during these times and often are revisited again years later in therapy. An important part of how these experiences effect us seems to be how well they sit with us at the time and also how lightly or not the regulations are introduced and enforced.

In dealing with depression it is quite common to find an inner critic or internal parent that has turned against the self. In this case the harshness of early admonishments are revived and relived with a real and destructive ferocity. We can experience strong feelings of self reproach which can result in reduced self esteem and feelings of utter worthlessness. These self reproaches are echoes of criticisms received over time from others which become a part of how we regard our own self. Often we defend ourselves against them; maybe even for years but at times when things seem to be going wrong for us on different fronts they can assert themselves and leave us feeling overwhelmed. This cruel self reproach from internalised rebukes is central to the feelings of low self worth which often accompany depression.

We do however need an internal critic. Its purpose is to regulate the personality, particularly in a social capacity. We benefit by becoming masters of our own fantasies and impulses and by channelling these energies into creative rather than destructive endeavours. If the regulation behind the internal critic is aimed at achieving a certain standard in a particular field of life; if it is benignly learned and compatible with how we would like to behave and like to be regarded then it can be a positive and creative force. In this way too in therapy we can tune into our internal critic; its effects and the obstacles it can erect. We can consider these in the light of how we would like to be. In this way we can learn to realign it to revised personal standards and goals, freed up from old blockages. We can replace a harsh internal critic with a more benign one of our own choosing.

I am seen, therefore I am.

Depression,Psychotherapy — admin @ 4:47 pm

Here at Counselling Connections this week we’ve been getting philosophical. It began with a discussion about how to respond to a question we are often asked about ways in which events from infancy and childhood influence our adult personalities and our emotional lives. We would take it as a given that they do but sometimes the ways this might work are not so obvious and from time to time people ask us about it when considering whether and how psychotherapy or counselling might be of benefit to them. The question is quite a fundamental one and touches on the concept of what makes us who we are.
The philosopher Descartes famously wrote ‘I think, therefore I am’ when addressing fundamental questions of human existence. We propose a variation of his remark when we say ‘I am seen, therefore I am’ and we’ll try to explain that a little further in answer to the question as to how something that we experienced as a baby informs our adult life. We draw largely on the work of D.W.Winnicott in forming our opinion and in working out the effects of our early relationships with our mother and other carers.
Take, for example a baby who is lifted from their cot and held by a caring adult. If this baby looks up into the adult’s face and is met by a smile this will have a positive influence on how the baby feels. In a fundamental kind of way the baby feels good that they are met with smiles, eye contact and attention. In fact, the baby seeks this out as being an essential element in their very survival. The baby is completely dependent and relies on the adult world for feeding and for care. These feelings of being experienced in a positive way by caring adults are reinforced by being repeated over and over again. The baby will not tire of this.
This is not always the way it works though and sometimes the experience of the baby is not a positive one. There are many ways in which a different experience for the baby may reinforce things in a negative way. Firstly, the baby may be left to cry in their cot for some time before being picked up and held. These delays are experienced as being unbearably distressing for the baby. Secondly, the baby might be picked up all right but handled and held impatiently; their hunger or cries being regarded as a nuisance or imposition. Another possibility is that the adult feeds the baby all right but fails to maintain eye contact or engage with the baby in any way. All these things, when repeated over and over again will have a negative effect on the baby and their sense of security and trust in the world around them.
A key thing in this regard seems to be a level of consistency in the care that the baby receives. Generally speaking if the care can be regarded as ‘good enough’ things will work out satisfactorily. The important thing here is that the experiences that influence these things are repeated and if they are not good the baby will develop anxieties which will endure and resurface through life. These can be experienced in adulthood as a kind of anxiety; of not feeling safe; not being listened to or heard or of not being understood. They present in our relationships at home or in work and may result in feelings of isolation or even depression. It is hoped that the experience of being listened to and understood in a therapeutic setting can help to recover a sense of self. To be seen; to be listened to by another human being can set in motion a repair of something very fundamental inside us which addresses the very fact of our existence and experience as a human person.
Counselling Connections, Dundalk.

The Stigma attached to Mental Illness and Depression.

Depression — admin @ 5:46 pm

Here at Counselling Connections this week our discussions have been about the stigma associated with depression or mental illness generally. Even to put it in those terms is to point to the problem because to label something as ‘depression’ or ‘mental illness’ is the kind of thinking that leads to stigma. The history of mental health and ill health is replete with various conditions being described, categorised and labelled. Mental illness has not been well understood and those unlucky enough to be given a diagnosis were often removed completely from society. If these things were discussed at all it was in whispered tones.
This kind of denial pointed to the fear surrounding anything concerned with mental health. Some would say that this fear is really about our own personal concern that we might catch it ourselves. It is probably fair to say that we seek reassurance in this regard and that our wish is that any bout of emotional ill health can be cleared up simply and quickly. We like to believe that there are definitive solutions that can return a person to ‘normality’ without delay. Whatever the reason for this it can lead to an ‘us and them’ attitude towards those affected by what is called mental illness. Not talking about it and not wanting to know about it has probably led to a generally poor level of understanding about the whole area of mental health.
Clients often report feelings of discomfort or fear if they have to miss work because of depression or stress. It can be felt that employers take a dim view of absence for mental health reasons and that these conditions can be easily feigned. Return to work interviews after a period of illness can be especially difficult as can the prospect of facing work colleagues again. Often the temptation is to try to hide that real reason for the absence.
There can be apprehension that a trust in the employee will be broken and that they will never be regarded the same way again. The fear is that this can mean being discriminated against; maybe being passed over for promotion or regarded as unreliable. We have heard examples of employers showing an enlightened attitude to these matters. A supportive and understanding response will of course bring its own rewards and will make it easier for the person involved to return to a fuller participation in all aspects of their lives.
People also report difficulties in their personal lives following, for example, a prolonged period of depression. Friends may drop off and avoid contact because they run out of patience or because they find it difficult to know what to do. Sometimes this involves blame and recrimination as personal relationships become fraught and difficult to manage. These are understandable because it is difficult at times to know what the right thing is to do or to say. However, this loss of friendship at this time can be experienced as yet another deeply felt personal rejection.
Stigma is like a mark that we put on someone who is judged to be suffering from mental illness. It can be difficult to remove once it has become attached. However, stigma can be tackled through education and understanding. If ‘breakdown’ and different forms of ‘mental illness’ were better understood we could have a society which was more accepting of it. The counselling and psychotherapy community have a responsibility to help get this message across. Mental ill health can be temporary and with good care a full recovery is achievable. An open, accepting, and non-judgemental attitude will alleviate a great deal of suffering and facilitate better outcomes.

Understanding and treating Depression

Depression — admin @ 7:41 pm

Here at counselling connections this week we were talking about how an episode of depression and in particular how it is treated can represent an opportunity. That may see like an odd thing to say because nobody would willingly choose to have depression. The point is that we often find that depression can occur at a crossroads in life. It is probably accurate to say that an episode of depression can eventually lead to making great changes.
Depression is experienced in different ways. People often describe a loss of interest in life and specifically a loss of appetite for food and sex. Concentration can become difficult and simple tasks which we would have carried out without giving them a second thought can suddenly appear quite difficult. This can have the effect of shaking our confidence further. Sleep often becomes a problem with clients reporting that it can be difficult to get off to sleep or that they wake in the middle of the night. These symptoms are often accompanied by a general low mood.
Low mood can vary quite a lot from person to person. At times someone will describe a low mood which is quite persistent, which doesn’t really lift but which is not severe enough to stop the person from working or interacting with others. This kind of low mood is sometimes present for a long time before deciding to talk to someone about it. At other times mood levels are sufficiently low as to be quite debilitating. It is not unusual for someone to be quite self-critical at times like this and unfortunately this can make an already gloomy outlook on life appear worse.
All of these symptoms are telling us that at a very fundamental level inside us we have become dissatisfied with how our life has evolved. We can drift somewhat into a position in life where our job or lifestyle or key relationships just don’t match up with how we imagined they were going to be. We may have developed strong internal beliefs say in fair play or reward for hard work and honest effort. And these might meet again and again with frustration and rebuttal in the world. Our depression offers us a chance to re-evaluate all these kind of beliefs and presents us with an opportunity to change.
This is easier said than done and we would not have developed a depression in the first instance if we hadn’t been trying really hard for some time to make things work out. We also have to face, perhaps for the first time our internal critic. This figure in our imagination has likely been the cause of many a plan being abandoned and many an opportunity for contentment missed. This is the internalised version of a harsh parent or other significant person from our past. And sometimes rather than confront the idea that ‘I can’t do this’ it is just easier either to give up or not try at all. This kind of behaviour becomes very fixed and can be difficult to change.
Change is brought about by becoming aware of our internal beliefs and standards. It is about getting to know and understand ourselves at a very fundamental level. It becomes possible to challenge our fears and misconceptions about our own capabilities. Sometimes during therapy and following a depression we have to face our own anger at others or at the world for how things turned out. This is in fact a very healthy process and is part of getting to really know our deepest self. Armed with this self knowledge and with realistic expectations of the challenges we may face along the way we can again set about living life and trying to find a balance in our relationships; in love and in work; with all aspects of the world outside.
Counselling Connections, Dundalk.

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